Antigua to the British Virgin Islands

Destination

A Caribbean Delivery Adventure

We spend our working days arranging, organising, writing and talking about yachting holidays around the globe, so it’s only right that we occasionally get to spend our downtime doing some serious sailing.

Helm’s marketing manager James was fortunate enough to deliver a friend’s sailing yacht from Antigua to the British Virgin Islands, and from 20 knot trade winds to giant sea turtles and warm hospitality, he encountered the very best of the Caribbean island chain along the way.

The route is mostly downwind, varying from a beam reach to a deep run thanks to the eerily consistent easterly trade winds, with a following sea that is moderated and softened by the islands as you pass them by.

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Itinerary

  • Day 1- Arrive in Antigua
  • Day 2 - Five Islands Bay - 15nm
  • Day 3 - Nevis - 45nm
  • Day 4 - St Barths - 52nm
  • Day 5 - Spanish Town, BVI - 100nm
  • Day 6 - Norman Bight - 7nm
  • Day 7 - Nanny Cay - 5nm
  • Total = 240nm

Skippers Log

Falmouth Harbour Antigua Yachting Holidays | Helm

Day 1

Antigua

Our trip began in Antigua’s famous Falmouth Harbour, home to an array of gorgeous boats, including some spectacular superyachts. I fell in love with at least 5 of them, and could have easily spent a full week just walking the dock surrounded by these beautiful vessels.

Antigua Yacht Club, scene of supper on our first night, is well worth a visit. With incredible views over the marina, smooth Painkiller cocktails, super fresh all-you-can-eat sushi, and live music, it makes a wonderful first night restaurant.

Day 2

Five Island Bay

We kicked off with a short leg along the Antiguan coast to Five Islands Bay, a beautiful anchorage to the west of the island. To call it a mixed day would be putting things mildly! The morning was warm, humid and a little cloudy, and we set off with an easterly 15-20 knots at our backs.

While the winds are remarkably stable across the Caribbean, the weather can change quickly and dramatically, as I learned pretty early on. Along the two-and-a-half hour sail, we encountered a number of swift rain squalls that arrived suddenly and left almost as fast.

One squall struck as we were inside Goat Head Reef, surfing along at 9 knots, and reduced visibility to just beyond our own bow! Having successfully negotiated our way through the reef, we sailed into Five Islands Bay, a lovely, quiet anchorage. The bottom is a sort of sticky mud, with very good holding, and it made a great stop off for our first Caribbean swim of the trip.

Mount Nevis

Day 3

Charlestown, Nevis

After a night spent eating and drinking under the stars, we rose early to watch the sunrise before setting off for the 8-hour sail across to Nevis. Leaving at 0700, we stuck to a downwind course all the way across, taking it in turns to helm at 8 knots under jib and reefed main sail.

Arriving at 1430, we anchored up and motored ashore to fetch provisions in Charlestown. It was a superb sailing day, with 16-18 knots of wind all day and bright blue skies blessing our entire trip.

We had planned to pick up a mooring buoy off the beach and head ashore for a few sundowners at Sunshine’s bar and restaurant, one of the region’s best. Sadly there were none available, so we had to anchor off Charlestown for the night.

Gustavia st barths

Day 4

Gustavia, St Barths

It was a very early start the next morning as we left Nevis at 0500 for the 50nm trip to St Barthelemy. The first few hours of moonlit cruising passed by peacefully, sheltered behind St Kitts as we made serene progress.

Once clear of St Kitts, we turned hard to starboard to make the journey north, aided by 20 knots on the beam, but frustrated by regular rain squalls and a rolling side sea that had half the crew reaching for all the ginger they could get their hands on!

The most remarkable things about today was the magnificent frigate bird that accompanied us for the full 50nm, swooping and gliding in the thermals created by the mainsail, occasionally diving drastically to catch a fish or two before returning to fly just off our windward quarter. A very special thing to see.

We arrived in St Barths and moored up stern-to off the quay just inside Gustavia. If anywhere could be described as the Caribbean Riviera, it would be cosmopolitan St Barths. We arrived a month before the Barths Bucket, but the town was still filled with impressive superyachts, with the largest ones anchored off outside Gustavia.

The town itself was very pretty, with tree lined hills running down to the waterfront, punctuated by the vivid red roofs of traditional Caribbean houses and bright pink burst of bougainvillea. This French colony is a haven for the jet-set, with sensational restaurants and waterfront boutiques offering a slice of European haute couture in the middle of the Caribbean.

Day 5

Spanish Town, BVI

This was the longest day of the lot; we lined up a 100nm leg across to the British Virgin Islands. Because it was such a long distance, and we wanted to arrive in daylight, we decided to make the most of our time in St Barths and delay departure until 6pm, so we could arrive the following morning.

With this plan in place, we strolled through Gustavia to Shell Beach to relax ahead of the overnight trip.

Well reefed, we set off in 20knots, which followed us the entire way, and enjoyed a wonderful night sail under a starry sky, phosphorescence spraying off as we surfed at 9 knots almost constantly. It was a battle to wrestle the helm away at the end of every watch, we were having so much fun!

We arrived in the BVI around sunrise, passing through Round Rock passage before anchoring off Spanish Town for some well deserved rest.

Day 6

Norman Bight

Thursday began with a trip to see the magnificent Baths on Virgin Gorda, a natural rock collection formed millions of years ago.

We then enjoyed a beautiful sail downwind towards Soper’s Hole, in 20 knots of breeze under a blue sky – this was classic Caribbean cruising conditions, and left us all absolutely buzzing when we got to Soper’s Hole to check in.

Our next leg took us a short 6nm hop across to The Bight on Norman Island, where we moored just off the legendary Willy Ts barge bar. Taking the dinghy ashore, we enjoyed a leisurely lunch at Pirates restaurant, sunlight glinting off the water as it lapped the white sand beach at our feet.

The conch fritters were exceptional, and the painkillers slid down very easily after the previous day’s exertions. A night out at Willy Ts followed, before we eventually retired to bed.

TORTOLA bvi

Day 7

Nanny Cay

Our final day in the BVI was spent snorkelling in the vibrant waters off Treasure Point and relaxing on board, before we slipped our mooring at 3pm to head across to Nanny Cay, our final destination. One last sail under jib alone had us doing 6 knots through occasional squalls as a tall ship sailed past. Having cleaned and packed up the yacht, we headed to Peglegs for one last painkiller.

Taking an early morning flight back to Antigua in a small charter plane, we headed to English Harbour, with time for a stroll around the historic Nelson’s Dockyard, a beautiful colonial harbour, home to a few charter boats and a lovely place to start and end a week’s holiday. Marvelling at the incredible yachts on display, including a restored J yacht and Tracey Edward’s Maiden. We followed this up with lunch at the sublime Catherine’s on Pigeon Beach, a perfect way to end the trip before flying home.

Carib cheers

The Verdict

Despite racing and cruising extensively in destinations across the Mediterranean and Southeast Asia, this was my first trip to the Caribbean. And it very much lived up to its reputation for exceptional climate and gorgeous scenery.

I’d known about trade winds before the trip, but have never experienced such consistently excellent wind for sailing. Coupled with warm weather and gorgeous scenery, we all agreed that this makes the Caribbean pretty unbeatable for a yachting holiday.

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